Thursday, January 31, 2013

Slow Motion Riot by Peter Blauner

Blauner belongs to that group of writers who excel at honing the edge of large city life: it feels big, dangerous, and completely outside the control of any individual, much like a slow motion riot in fact. Originally published in 1991, this novel won an Edgar and was named a NYT International Book of the Year. Now, on the occasion of its publication as an ebook by Open Road Media, it is being reoffered to the reading public. For those of you who like your reads gritty and real, don’t miss it this time around.

The novel opens in a Probation Office where an idealistic young man, Baum (or Bomb, as he is called by some), hopes to make a difference and tells of his clients--the felons and the misdemeanors. There is true madness here, and despair and confusion, and a withering boredom borne of ignorance. The story hinges on three of Baum’s clients, and one of his coworkers. In a series of chapters much like looking into separate apartments throughout the city, we are privy to the thinking and activities of these individuals, which gives us an insight Baum doesn’t necessarily share. We sense violence on its way long before it is played out.

If a reader were to plot this novel on a contour map, one would see Baum pushing a large iron ball up a steep hill. There is gathering potential in the first, slower half of the novel. In the second half, the ball slips its constraints and rolls free. There is a crushing energy and destructive quality to the path of the story that will keep readers riveted, so stay on course to this critical juncture.

Blauner calls his books social novels with an element of suspense. That sounds right. You will want to read what Blauner himself says about his own books, since his style is clear and he’s willing to share. He is deliberate in his choices and his constructions are not haphazard. It takes him several years to write a book, of which this is only the first. You may find you would like to follow him through his oeuvre, for he has chosen a distinct subject area that may be underserved in our literature. I note that Blauner says his books sold better in Europe than in America at first.

This book was published twenty years ago, and while it is beginning to have some telltale signs of age, one could read it as current. In fact, the social consciousness of the young is arguably stronger today than it was then, and for this reason, it may be just the right dose of highly embroidered imagination for a young market. I recommend this title, or choose another of his later novels. This is an unusual writer who has something unique to offer, and it would be a shame to overlook him in the rush for the next bestseller.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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